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Denver Public Schools included in lawsuit attempting to block education secretary’s federal aid rule

Education Secretary Betsy DeVos speaks during a White House Coronavirus Task Force briefing at the Department of Education building Wednesday, July 8, 2020, in Washington. 

(The Center Square) – Denver Public Schools (DPS) is a plaintiff in a lawsuit filed by the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People (NAACP) and other groups against the U.S. Department of Education and Secretary Betsy DeVos.

The NAACP announced the lawsuit after DeVos issued a directive requiring some $13 billion in COVID-19 educational relief funds included in the federal CARES Act to go to private schools, a rule the civil rights group says “imposes illegal and harmful requirements” on federal funding for public schools.

The Education Department, which issued the Interim Final Rule toward the end of June, argued that private schools in low-income areas are “under great financial strain” from the COVID-19 pandemic.

“There is nothing in the law Congress passed that would allow districts to discriminate against children and teachers based on private school attendance and employment. In this new rule, we recognized that CARES Act programs are not Title I programs,” DeVos said in a June 25 statement. “There is no reasonable explanation for debating the use of federal funding to serve both public and private K-12 students when federal funding, including CARES Act funding, flows to both public and private higher education institutions.”

NAACP, with the Public Funds Public Schools initiative, the Education Law Center, the Southern Poverty Law Center, and the law firm Munger, Tolles & Olson LLP, filed the lawsuit in a Washington, D.C. federal district court arguing that the funding was intended for vulnerable and low-income schools and students.

“In this moment of dire need for America’s public schools, the Rule compels public school districts to divert essential CARES Act funds for the benefit of private schools or face unlawful limitations on the way that those funds can be spent in public schools—both in direct contravention of the Act,” the lawsuit alleges. “The Rule harms American children and subverts the will of Congress; it cannot stand.”

“Amid a national health crisis, Education Secretary Betsy DeVos is robbing public school children of desperately needed relief and diverting it to private schools,” NAACP President and CEO Derrick Johnson said in a statement. “This is a new low, even for an administration intent on promoting inequality in education.”

Pamela Benigno, director of the Education Policy Center at the Independence Institute, which advocates for school choice policies, said “the current crisis should create a greater number of partnerships for the good of both public and private school children.”

“Under the new binding rule, if DPS does not want to share CARES Act funds with middle-class or more affluent private school children then they should choose the option of not allocating funds to their middle-class or more affluent public schools,” she said. “Problem solved.”

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